Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Cedric Burnside - Hill Country Love

I really like North Mississippi Hill Country blues.  I like the often hypnotic grooves, the edgy drumming that’s always liable to undergo an eruption, and the real sense of heart that’s often discernible in the music. But to be honest, this album by Cedric Burnside has me in three minds, as it were.
There are tracks on Hill Country Love that hit the nail on the head.  ‘Juke Joint’ for instance, is a song about the pleasure of getting on down which sports one of the more low down, gritty guitar parts on the album, which seems to get doubled up as the song progresses.  The drums are simple but snappy, and there’s a tricksy dot-dot-dotting guitar break.  My only complaint is that it rather fizzles out when it’s begging for some kind of incendiary finish. ‘Coming Real To Ya’ works too.  It’s simple/borderline simplistic - a bit more languid, with rolls around the
Cedric Burnside - coming real to ya!
Pic by Jim Arbogast
drum kit and two guitars intertwining to good effect and getting into stinging, stabbing mode, and some really squeaky slide playing at the end.
‘Love You Music’ is another example, weaving prickly, sitar-sounding guitar into a guitar figure that could come from some sub-Saharan outfit like Songhoy Blues and weds it to rolling tom-toms that suddenly flip into paradiddling snare and back again, before getting seriously agitated in support of the central guitar break.  And the following ‘Toll On They Life’ is slower, the guitar initially just following the melody as it builds a mantra-like vibe for the head-shaking commentary, before a warmer guitar tone triggers the chorus, and a twanging guitar break offers more variety.
But on the other hand ‘Closer’, a prayer to get closer to god, may be lean and bright with its tootling guitar, but really is too simplistic.  ‘Thank You’, with its stumbling guitar line, squawks of harp and basic rhythm, just feels sonically thin and really doesn’t amount to much. And I can’t quite make my mind up about the brief and winsome ‘Strong’, which belies its title with its musing vocal, pattering drums and sugar-spun guitar remarks.
The third element I’m juggling with here is the inclusion of three old classics in ‘Shake Em On Down’, ‘You Got To Move’ and ‘Po Black Mattie’.  ‘Shake Em . . . ‘ is kept primitive, with acoustic slide guitar and a near incantated vocal, but doesn’t develop much – though to be fair there’s an argument that’s in its Hill Country nature. The take on ‘You Got To Move’ is atmospherically spare, its plinking guitar moving with the melody and reinforced by some conversational harp.  But the most convincing cover is the closing ‘Po Black Mattie’, which is given a loose but popping treatment, with lightly jogging guitar and bass nagging away like a toothache against a backdrop of pushy, insistent drums that get all action at times, like they’re trying to escape. But do these oldies -especially the first too – actually add much to the equation, or are they just pleasant padding?
But to close on a positive note, 'Hill Country Love' itself has a sunny vibe with its hipwiggling rhythm and low down riff. And ‘Funky’ is properly engaging with its jangling guitar backed up by syncopated drums and burbling bass, and our Cedric’s repeated exhortations to “get funky, get funky, get funky”. And he even gives an entertainingly James Brown-esque introduction to a spanking drum break.  It’s one of the tracks here with the most personality.
Hill Country Love runs to 14 tracks, but should have been trimmed. And while Burnside suggests that the ad hoc recording space he and producer Luther Dickinson used “made the sound resonate like a big wooden box”, I’d have liked a bit more muscle to be on display.
Still and all, Cedric Burnside has got the Hill Country sound in his blood, and there are a couple of fistfuls of those idiosyncratic grooves on offer here.
Hill Country Love is released by Provogue Records on 5 April, and can be ordered here.

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